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March 08, 2004 13:14 IST

Just as Vaikom Mohammad Basheer's grandfather had an elephant, my great uncle -- on my father's side, twice removed -- had a dog. It was a German Shepherd, or as the Mallus like to call it, an Alsatian -- a status symbol. When dog and man went for evening walks in that railway colony in Tamil Nadu, the neighbours nodded in approval.

When the summer vacations arrived, Great Uncle packed his family off to Kerala. But his son would not budge without the dog. So Caesar went along.

Those were the days of the steam locomotive and the old gent used his pelf to great advantage. He secured a place for Caesar in the luggage van. It was a special privilege for, at every stop, the grumpy mutt would be checked on, watered and, at specific stops, fed. All paid for.

Morning broke and the swaying green paddies of Kerala loomed into view. The soot-stained brigade got off at Palakkad. Great Uncle's son was eager to rub noses with the dog.

His enthusiasm turned to horror when the attendant opened the cage. In place of the shaggy, calf-sized Alsatian was a mangy, snappy mongrel. At a watering stop in the middle of the night, the attendant had opened the cage to water the dog. Caesar, seizing his chance, had bounded away into the night. When the train whistled twice and got ready to leave, the attendant panicked and picked up the first dog he saw on the platform.

Somewhere in the Tamil Nadu hinterland that day, an Alsatian roamed free.

Bijoy Venugopal, Mumbai

A passion for homework

"Did you know the 'B' division's teacher gave her class 14 questions on the lesson? Our class had only four. It's just not fair," cribbed Deepa.

Both of us have a child studying in Class II, division C of a reputed Mumbai school. Deepa discovered this injustice after the second term examinations and indignantly pointed out that our kids were at a competitive disadvantage. One of the questions asked in the recent test was among those the other section had practised in their class. The teacher who taught our kids had, according to her, erred.

Had the teacher really committed a mistake by not burdening her class of seven year olds with as much written work? I think not. Children are usually taught to learn an answer by rote. But, by not having a preview to the question, they were encouraged to compose an answer. Children like to try new things. The novelty of a different question appeals to all of us. I believe the students in my child's class were really at an advantage. They had not been forced into the 'memorise and vomit' syndrome. They were encouraged to think and write.

Are children handicapped by an aggressive parent whose competitive streak discourages creativity at the altar of marks? Or is it the education system that focuses on exams and grades more than learning? The debate is endless.

Yesterday, I found Deepa sitting on the school steps copying down all the homework from a 'B' section student!

Arti Swaroop, Mumbai

Vroom! Vroom!

Do you remember your first day learning how to drive a two-wheeler?

Mine was about two years ago. I was planning to apply for a driving license for four-wheelers and two-wheelers in three months time.

I enrolled myself in a driving school to learn how to drive a car. My lessons went well except for the fact that I could never remember there was something called the 'brake' that was used to stop the car.

Meanwhile, my father had taken the onus of teaching me to ride the scooter. It was not easy, particularly since I had never even ridden a bicycle. Besides, I would wonder with irritating periodicity why my scooter had no reverse gear; after all, cars had one.

Finally, I was able to drive the scooter on a large ground. Trying to drive on the road, though, was a nightmare. Whenever I saw a truck in the rear view mirror, I felt a giant was trying to catch hold of me. I used to stop each time and let the giant pass before I resumed my ride.

It's taken me two years to drive the scooter with confidence. But I still hope someone will consider making one with a reverse gear.

Fathima Sagar, Coimbatore

The travails of Time

I happened to glance at my watch as I entered the office one Monday morning. I stopped in shock. It was just 9 am. For once, I was on time! I signed the attendance register with a flourish and happily wished the security guy a good morning. He looked at his watch seriously and replied, "Good afternoon, sir."

My watch had played a scurvy trick on me; it had stayed put at 9 am without letting me know.

I slunk quietly towards my desk and reset my watch according the time shown on my computer. I was deep in work when my phone rang. It was a pal, asking me if I wanted to join him for lunch. I glanced at my watch. Lunch at 11!? "It's 1 o'clock," my pal brought me down to earth with a thud. My watch had played yet another trick on me.

When it comes to leaving the office every evening, I am the model of punctuality -- I step out at 5.45 pm sharp. As I was walking along the road, a guy looked at my watch and asked, "What is the time?"

I looked at him, embarrassed, and replied, "I don't know."

He stared at me. You didn't have to be a mind-reader to know what he was thinking.

As soon as he was out of sight, I kept my watch in my pocket. A little while later, a guy smoking a beedi began to ask, "Time..." Then he looked at my wrist. No watch. He stared at the way I was dressed. He looked at my wrist again. You don't have to be a mind-reader...

I immediately walked into the nearest Titan showroom and got the battery changed on my watch. When I walked the streets again, I was ready for any Chennai-ite, beedi smoking or otherwise, who wanted to know the time. But no one seemed interested any more.

Santosh V, Bangalore

Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh

Also in this series:

Car, Car Baby

Nude Pictures?

Of red BMWs and silver Jaguars

No booze, Gods on the premises

Birds, bees and elephants

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